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Morrow's masterpiece bettered only by Halladay in Year of Pitcher

Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow may have lost his no-hitter one out away from completion, but his performance Sunday afternoon in Toronto was one of this season's best pitched games -- even better than most of the season's no-nos.

Morrow attained a level of dominance from start to finish that exceeded all but the Phillies' Roy Halladay in 2010. He struck out 17 Rays and allowed only four baserunners: two walks, one error and the one hit, a groundball single by Evan Longoria that caromed off the glove of diving second baseman Aaron Hill. It was a clean base hit that would have required a highlight-reel defensive stop to be prevented, but it wasn't an impossible play.

Morrow, who turned 26 two weeks ago, pounded the strike zone with a fastabll that averaged 93 mph for the game, and reached a high of 97 in the second inning, but it was his success throwing his slider for strikes. According to Pitch F/x data, he threw 38 sliders and two curves, and 31 of those 40 breaking balls (77.5 percent) were strikes.

His stuff was brilliant all day. For the first out of the eighth inning, for instance, Morrow snapped such an impressive full-count curve ball that the Rays' John Jaso -- who has such notable plate discipline that, though a catcher, he bats leadoff -- simply marched back to the visiting dugout, even though the pitch was up in the zone and only a borderline strike. By not arguing or even waiting for the home-plate umpire's call before returning to the bench, Jaso was conceding that the pitch was unhittable.

One can only wonder what would have happened if first baseman Lyle Overbay hadn't botched a routine Dan Johnson groundball in the seventh inning. Morrow struck out the next batter, Matt Joyce, on three pitches, but the Rays' lineup cycled one more spot, allowing Longoria to bat in the ninth.

His final stat line was reminiscent to the greatest pitching performance of Pedro Martinez's career. Pitching against the Yankees as a Red Sox on Sept. 10, 1999, Martinez threw his own 17-strikeout one-hitter. Martinez didn't walk any batters, unlike Morrow, but the hit he allowed was a solo homer to Chili Davis, killing his shutout.

Morrow has always had the talent for such a performance and, in fact, had thrown two other one-hitters of more than seven innings. The Mariners made him the No. 5 pick of the 2006 draft, though he's had an erratic career shifting from bullpen to rotation and back. He debuted as a reliever in 2007, but in his first career start on Sept. 5, 2008, he allowed just one hit to the Yankees over 7 2/3 innings, giving up one run and striking out eight.

Anointed Seattle's closer for 2009, he ran into trouble in May and lost the job. He later returned to the rotation where he had mild success highlighted by his final start of the year in which he again gave up just one hit, this time while shutting out the A's over eight innings with nine strikeouts. The Mariners shipped Morrow to Toronto for reliever Brandon League after the season.

The Blue Jays made Morrow a full-time starter for the first time in his career. After his gem on Sunday, his record was 9-6 and his ERA was down to 4.45, but even after pitching the game of his life, he didn't look happy. While giving a postgame interview to Rogers SportsNet, his face wore an expression of disappointment, even before he fell victim to a celebratory Gatorade shower and two shaving-cream pie attacks.

Though a sports almanac won't list Morrow among the no-hitters of 2010, he can rest easy knowing he outpitched everyone in this Year of the Pitcher -- except Halladay.

1. Halladay, Phillies; May 29 at Marlins9 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs, 11 strikeouts, 0 walks, 98 game score

Halladay cruised through Florida's lineup, striking out 11 over 115 pitches in a two-hour, 13-minute game in which the losing pitcher, Josh Johnson, allowed only one unearned run in seven innings. No great defensive plays were needed to support Halladay, just a few above-average ones.

2. Morrow, Blue Jays; Aug. 8 vs. Rays9 IP, 1 hit, 0 runs, 17 strikeouts, 2 walks, 100 game score

His volume of strikeouts and prowess with the slider -- both its bite and regularity in the zone -- give Morrow's performance the boost. He needed 137 pitches but 97 of them were strikes, including 25 called strikes, 20 swinging strikes and 41 foul balls, the latter an indication that the Rays struggled to square him up. Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist did manage one hard-hit ball, which Toronto centerfielder Vernon Wells tracked down for a great catch against the wall. Morrow's outing was the season's first game score of at least 100, according to the Bill James-created metric of performance.

3. Dallas Braden, A's; May 9 vs. Rays9 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs, 6 strikeouts, 0 walks, 93 game score

If ever there were a yeoman perfect game, this was it. Braden induced 21 outs in the field of play -- seven grounders, 14 flyouts -- to go along with his six strikeouts over 109 pitches. Only five times all game did Braden get the Rays to swing and miss. Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff made a couple nice plays to range for popups, and leftfielder Eric Patterson snared two hard-hit liners.

4. Armando Galarraga, Tigers; June 2 vs. Indians9 IP, 1 hit*, 0 runs, 3 strikeouts, 0 walks, 88 game score

The asterisked perfect game was extraordinarily efficient, though not exactly dominant. Because of the now infamous blown call by first-base umpire Jim Joyce, Galarraga did allow one baserunner on one of the most dubious infield singles in the sport's history. But he pounded the strike zone, with first-pitch strikes to 24 of 28 hitters, and got 14 groundouts. He didn't miss many bats, however, striking out only three and getting only five swing-and-miss strikes.

5. Matt Garza, Rays; July 26 vs. Tigers9 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk, 92 game score

Garza allowed just one walk in his no-hitter, a free pass to Detroit's Brennan Boesch in the second, and he was wiped out in a double play, allowing Garza to face the minimum 27 batters. He struck out only six and needed a host of good defensive plays. Even Garza admitted after the game that his mechanics felt off, and so he relied heavily on his fastball, throwing it for 101 of his 120 pitches.

6. Travis Wood, Reds; July 10 vs. Phillies9 IP, 1 hit, 0 runs, 8 strikeouts, 0 walks, 93 game score

Wood carried a perfect game into the ninth, when he allowed a double to Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, the only baserunner he gave up in nine innings. Wood struck out eight, but because Halladay also threw nine shutout innings, he got a no-decision, and the Reds lost the game in the 11th. Wood threw only 19 pitches from behind in the count, and the majority of those (11) came when he was down only 1-0.

7. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies; April 17 vs. Braves9 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs, 7 strikeouts, 6 walks, 88 game score

From the sixth inning on, Jimenez's no-hitter was as good as any of the perfect games. It was in that frame that he began pitching out of the stretch full-time, because of his wildness from the windup that led to six walks in the first five innings. Jimenez retired the final 12 Braves in order, however, and and finished with seven strikeouts and 128 pitches.

8. Matt Cain, Giants; May 28 vs. Diamondbacks9 IP, 1 hit, 0 runs, 9 strikeouts, 0 walks, 94 game score

Cain threw a 122-pitch one-hitter, and the one hit -- a double by Arizona's Mark Reynolds -- was nearly caught by rightfielder Nate Schierholtz, who just missed making a leaping catch at the warning track. Cain did hit one batter with a pitch (also Reynolds) while striking out nine and throwing 122 pitches.

9. Johnny Cueto, Reds; May 11 at Pirates9 IP, 1 hit, 0 runs, 8 strikeouts, 0 walks, 93 game score

Cueto's day was eerily similar to Cain's, as Cueto allowed two baserunners -- also via one hit and one hit batsman to the same guy, in this case Pittsburgh's Ronny Cedeno -- to go along with eight strikeouts. And the hit Cueto yielded was also very nearly an out, as shortstop Paul Janish nearly fielded the groundball deep in the hole. Cueto was highly efficient, in needing just 102 pitches.

10. Edwin Jackson, Diamondbacks; June 25 vs. Rays9 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs, 6 strikeouts, 8 walks, 85 game score

Jackson, who has since been traded to the White Sox, had about the most unsightly stat line possible for a no-hitter, as he walked eight Rays and hit a ninth. With all those baserunners and deep counts, he needed 149 pitches to go the distance and threw nearly as many balls (70) as strikes (79). So taxing was the performance that he was given an extra two days off before his next start and wasn't very good in his next five starts, going 1-4 with a 7.24 ERA.

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